Ian Schrager talks design, working with Marriott and lifetime award

Entertainment industry icon David Geffen might not know it, but another icon, in a different business, credits the DreamWorks co-founder as a role model. That other icon is Ian Schrager; the other business is hotels. If you’ve ever stepped foot in what is known today as a boutique or lifestyle hotel, you have Schrager to thank. And he thanks Geffen for his sagacious advice.

“He might not even be aware of the impact he’s had on my life,” the Brooklyn-born Schrager said of Geffen, also a Brooklyn native. “He’s been an inspiration to me. His succinct, razor-sharp advice was always right on target and hit the bull’s-eye every time.”

The same could be said of Schrager’s designs. If not for Ian Schrager, there would be no Ace, no W, no Standard. Next month the hotel industry veteran receives the 2014 IHIF Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It’s always very nice to get recognized by your peers for creating a new and original idea. We came to the industry as complete outsiders,” he said. The ‘we’ referring to himself and the late Steve Rubell, with whom he opened the legendary Studio 54 in New York. “We were not bound by any traditions or rules; we had no preconceived notions and were not afraid to try new and untested things,” Schrager said.

Schrager’s Morgans Hotel did for the hotel industry what hybrids did for the car industry: created a new class. “Before Morgans in 1984 and the Royalton in 1987, there was no hotel like them,” he said. “They were the original originals. It was ground-breaking, defied categorization and was a new genre of hotel.”

And for those who still remain unconvinced that he and Rubell were the progenitors of the boutique concept, here’s a little-known tidbit: they coined the term. “We introduced [the term] to the world when we tried to communicate to the media what we were trying to do,” he said.

There you have it. But as maverick as Schrager was—still is—he’s also now ever more mainstream; perhaps because the boutique/lifestyle hotel is so ubiquitous today. Even Marriott International became bedfellows with Schrager on its own lifestyle brand Edition. Schrager calls Bill Marriott an icon and said he feels honored to be working with the company. And what of that ‘odd couple’ tag? “It’s just something the media created. It’s not reality,” he said.

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Schrager’s other big venture is Public, a brand he developed, which he calls a new direction—something incredibly stylized, but pure and simplified. “It was a rejection of all the overzealous design,” he said. “It’s the same thing I attempted in the lifestyle/boutique space 25 years ago and am now trying to do in a more value-seeking space.”

It’s the totality of his work that makes him this year’s recipient of the IHIF Lifetime Achievement Award. He calls the award a huge honor. “It’s always great to receive recognition from your peers, especially since what we were doing was treated with such skepticism in the beginning. I suppose it’s like that with all new ideas,” he said.

And while lifetime awards are usually reserved for those close to or already in retirement, Schrager shrugs at the notion. “I still have lots to say and lots to do,” he said. “I’m still bubbling with ideas and have plenty to say with hotels.”

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